GALLIPOLIS — The formation of a Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC) task force was announced Tuesday in Gallipolis following the felony arrest of two individuals and the seizure of a large amount of cocaine, heroin and cash at a local business in Gallia County during the early morning hours on Tuesday — a result, according to officials, of an organized effort between multiple law enforcement agencies.
Porter Mitchell, 38, of Gallipolis, and Michelle Walker, 36, of Rio Grande, were both arrested early on Tuesday morning after task force members served search warrants at P.J.’s Pool Hall and a neighboring residence on Ohio 7 North in the Kanauga area just after midnight.
As a result of the search, authorities found more than 140 grams of powdered cocaine, 11 grams of heroin and a small amount of ecstasy. More than $18,000 in cash was also seized.
Investigators reported on Tuesday that the pool hall was the front for an ongoing drug trafficking operation. Mitchell reportedly operated the establishment and lived next door.
Both Mitchell and Walker were arrested on felony charges of possession of drugs and possession of heroin. They are being held in the Gallia County Jail. Additional charges may be filed.
During a press conference held at the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office late on Tuesday afternoon, Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning, Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood, Gallipolis Police Chief Clinton Patterson, Middleport Police Chief Bruce Swift and Gallia County Prosecutor Jeff Adkins discussed the recent formation of the task force that will also pull resources from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office as they work to combat the ongoing drug problem in the area. A representative of Meigs County Prosecutor Colleen Williams’ office was not in attendance at the press conference.
“This is the first product of really what has been months of investigations into these crimes,” Sheriff Browning stated. “We’re happy to take down what we consider to be a major drug trafficker in our community but also to unveil to the citizens that we do have another tool available to us now in the form of organized assistance from multiple agencies.”
Browning further reported that Tuesday morning’s drug raid shows what can be accomplished when these local agencies pool their resources as they attempt to tackle the illegal drug trade, and, in turn, combat burglaries and other property crimes in the area.
“What each of us have realized in the last year and a half, with the burglary rate and the different crimes that we’re seeing, is that they have spawned off of really the illicit drug trade, not only pills but, as you can see, heroin and what comes with that. We’re seeing an increase in burglaries and property crimes as well as assaults and overdose deaths just throughout the region,” Browning said. “So in coming together, bringing all of us together, with the assistance of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, through their organized crime commission, we are able to pool our resources and start conducting investigations regionally. That’s really been a help especially since all of our agencies are really financially strapped and can’t afford to go it on our own, so we’re trying to address this issue from a group perspective, and, I think, from a citizen standpoint that would help assure them that we are trying to address these issues, and it’s being done effectively and efficiently.”
The Gallia County Sheriff further reported that the formation of the task force at this time is a huge benefit for the area as funding once used for resources to combat the drug problem in the area is no longer available, and, as such, local agencies now find it beneficial to pool their resources in a time when funding for materials, man power and technology needed for such drug investigations is scarce.
“In late 2009 and 2010 and 2011 we had our own funding, a lot of these agencies had funding, that came from various grant sources that are not available now, and, if you remember, we made several drug arrests along a similar fashion and we did try to work together on those. What we are finding now is that the state funding, anything that is available as a far as resources, is just so much better to try to join together as a task force and do it that way,” Browning stated. “As the need changes, and the threats evolve, we are going to try to evolve and change with that so we can address those issues.”
Gallia County Prosecutor Jeff Adkins also pointed to the federal funding that was once used to fund four additional officers in Gallia County — two at the sheriff’s office and two at the Gallipolis Police Department — who specifically worked to combat drug trafficking in the area — a fact that led to dozens more felony criminal cases that were prosecuted by his office during those years.
“Those two years we had the extra officers, we had over 300 felony indictments. Now, this year there will be maybe be 230 or 240. It meant that much. There were that many more drug trafficking cases being prosecuted because when they are able to go out and make the arrests and bring the cases to us, we can prosecute them. So, this is going to be a help,” Adkins stated.
Browning further stated that, while the funding for those extra officers has dried up and local efforts to renew that federal funding have been exhausted, the formation of the task force does lend hope to local law enforcement agencies who are tasked with combating the local drug problem.
“Those were actually [grants] that hadn’t been renewed through congress. We were very hopeful. We had two for the sheriff’s office here in Gallia County and two for the police department, and we were very successful with those grants,” Browning said. “This is just another case to show the public what we can do when we get the resources that are available out there. We still need funding for personnel, but having the funding that is being provided for technical assistance and equipment has been a big help over the past months in helping address these issues.”
Middleport Police Chief Bruce Swift also pointed to the fact that those individuals who are involved in the illicit drug trade, as well as local burglaries and the buying and selling of stolen goods, know no boundaries, and, as such, local law enforcement should work together.
“A lot of these crimes, the drug crimes, the property crimes, they don’t have a jurisdiction. They don’t have boundaries. The same people who are dealing and stealing here in Gallia County are some of the same people who are involved in Meigs County and it goes back and forth,” Swift said.
Sheriff Keith Wood agreed with his colleague, stating that the problem with drugs in the area has no jurisdiction.
“It’s like Bruce said, there’s not a boundary, there is a problem. So, I think that’s really what we’re trying to address is the problem,” Wood said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in Gallia, Meigs or wherever, it travels and follows us everywhere, so I think us working together is going to make a huge difference in the coming months.”
As they have already been working together for several months, all of the law enforcement officers pointed to Tuesday morning’s raid as a positive step in the right direction, but just one of many steps that need to be taken to combat the local illicit drug trade.
“This is really just the first of other investigations that we have in both counties that are going to be coming down the pike, so we wanted to take the opportunity today to not only announce the results of this search warrant but to also send a warning out there that we are going to be watching and we are going to be taking a very aggressive stance toward enforcement,” Browning said. “I think there’s more work to be done here.”